A part made in Ukraine is responsible for the failure of the first commercial flight of the Vega-C rocket, Tuesday December 20, 2022. On this day, two minutes and twenty-seven seconds after its takeoff from the base of Kourou , in Guyana, the launcher, which was to put two Airbus Pléiade observation satellites into orbit, left its trajectory due to a drop in pressure from its second stage. According to standard procedure, the order to destroy this rocket was then given. The debris fell into the Atlantic Ocean.
At the request of Arianespace, responsible for this flight, and the European Space Agency (ESA), the launch system development authority, an independent commission of inquiry was set up to find the reasons as quickly as possible. of this accident. The verdict fell on Friday March 4 and confirms information from The gallery published the day before: the failure comes from the neck of the nozzle manufactured by the Ukrainian company Youzhnoye. This is the part that connects the central body to the nozzle at the bottom of the rocket.
For the committee, it is “an unexpected thermomechanical erosion of the carbon/carbon composite constituting the nozzle throat insert, purchased by Avio in Ukraine. Additional investigations led to the conclusion that this phenomenon was probably due to a lack of homogeneity of the material used for this part. » This part did not withstand the pressure or the temperature of the flight.
Very heavy toll for Europe in space
Project manager of this rocket, the Italian group Avio had preferred this manufacturer to its traditional supplier, ArianeGroup. The committee states in its report that“Avio has already implemented an alternative solution for the next nozzle necks (…) manufactured by ArianeGroup “. The objective set by ESA is to resume flights at the end of 2023.
But this accident raises the question of the responsibility of ESA as sponsor of the rockets. In a letter sent on February 28, revealed by The echoes, the French space agency CNES asks its European counterpart to carry out an internal investigation, in addition to the technical investigation. It requires a profound review of project management.
Because the balance sheet is very heavy for Europe in space: Arianespace finds itself without a launcher to honor its contracts, at a time when the Americans, the Chinese and even the Indians are accelerating. Until the beginning of 2022, the European firm had a range of three rockets, including two European: the small Vega, for light satellites in low orbit, between 300 and 2,000 kilometers from the Earth, and its big sister Ariane -5, for heavy loads to be placed geostationary at 36,000 kilometers. It completed its offer with Russian Soyuz launchers to low orbit.
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